by Mike Safley
Every livestock breed has its legends. Racing has Man O’ War and Bold Ruler; Aberdeen Angus breeders revere Old Jock; and Merino breeders remember Master Builder, a descendent of the great impact sire Majestic. Alpacas of pedigree are a rather recent phenomenon. We cannot reach back centuries or even decades for the icons of alpaca breed improvement. The most famous alpaca herd sires are of recent vintage, some are still alive.
Alpaca World asked me to write about one or two herd sires that I thought were of consequence to the breed. I chose Accoyo’s Caligula and Cconchatanca’s Hemingway who have both thrown their seed to the four winds of Peru, Australia, the United States, and England. But to understand these males, both imported from Peru to the United States, one needs to know exactly where and from whom they were born.
I first heard Julio Barreda’s name in 1990. I asked a Peruvian friend, who was in the alpaca textile business, a simple question, “Who has the best alpacas in Peru?” My friend replied, without hesitation, “Don Julio Barreda.”
Today, Don Julio is one of the most important Peruvian alpaca breeders. His ranch “Accoyo”, an indian word meaning “sandy ground”, lies near the village of Macusani, at 15,000 feet above sea level. National Geographic Magazine called Macusani the world center for alpaca fiber production.
My first opportunity to inspect alpacas from Accoyo occurred in 1991 before I met the legendary Don Julio. During a visit to Grupo Inca’s experimental breeding farm in Sallalli, on my first trip to Peru, I inspected 24 huacaya machos just purchased from Barreda’s Accoyo ranch. Each male, more massive than any I had ever seen, was extreme in its traits, with great waves of crimp, microscopic fineness, and prodigious density. I remember thinking they are surely of a different breed than their puny brethren that populate my pastures at home.
I arranged to meet Don Julio Barreda in Arequipa shortly after viewing his males at Sallalli. I was immediately attracted by his kind, honest demeanor and his willingness to share his knowledge of alpacas. All of these events occurred when it was illegal to export alpacas from Peru. At that time, I could only dream of owning alpacas from Accoyo. The laws of Peru were finally changed, and in 1994 the first Accoyo alpacas were imported into the United States.
The Incan empire elevated alpaca breeding to new levels of excellence, and alpaca husbandry was very carefully regulated by the “Camayocc”, or alpaca professional. The spinning and weaving of alpaca garments was highly evolved; textiles were the coin of the realm.
More recently, alpaca breeding has suffered in Peru as Socialist land reforms adversely impacted the breeding of alpacas. The Shining Path, or “Sendero Luminoso” terrorists, wreaked havoc on the farms of the altiplano. Don Julio in his role as a modern day “Camayocc” persevered. He manages to maintain his royal bloodlines (Plantel) through thick and thin. Today Don Julio shepherds about 2,500 head, approximately 75% are huacaya and the balance suri. The bloodlines of his “Plantel” date to 1946.
In 1948, many of Accoyo's alpacas were low-quality, multicolored, and lacking uniformity. Some were huarizo, or crosses between llamas and alpacas. For each outstanding animal there were eight mediocre and five inferior. Barreda recorded each animal's production as he sheared. The results for the original 500 animals were entered on the early pages of his herd book as follows (Figure 1):
During 1990 Don Julio reclassified the entire herd and added a selection category called the B or Select herd. Alpacas designated as Plantel are from the dense or “A” line and the “B” line is based on fiber fineness. The results achieved some 42 years after the first classification are shown in Figure 2.
After many decades of rigorous genetic selection, Barreda has redefined the alpaca. He maintains two herds or breed of huacaya. In 2005 the B line produces a fine but less dense fleece of 20 microns or less. The Plantel produces a very dense fleece averaging 24 microns. Most of these alpacas produce over 10 pounds of fleece annually; some from the A line produce close to 20 pounds.
The dramatic nature of Don Julio’s results was demonstrated when 462 huacayas were shorn prior to entering quarantine for the 1995 Peruvian Five Star Alpaca Import Sale. Of the 462 huacayas, 92 were from Accoyo. The Accoyo fleeces averaged 8.61 pounds. The 370 fleeces from six other farms averaged 6.31 pounds—a difference of 2.3 pounds, or 36% per animal. The fleece of the Accoyo huacayas averaged 22.13 microns and some had micron counts as low as 17. The average standard deviation was 4.82 microns and the co-efficient of variation averaged was 22.91%. The balance of the import was about the same fineness with a higher standard deviation. The average Accoyo animal sampled was 18 months older than other imports: simply amazing.
Barreda attributes his accomplishments to the “father’s lineage” and says, "my success was mainly due to the fact that, from the beginning, suris and huacayas with well-defined characteristics were used as fathers, and the selection went on using only animals born to the herd." At 86 years of age, Don Julio’s time is split between Macusani and Arequipa. He returns to the mountains every two months to spend time supervising his herd, ensuring that his workers cull, breed, feed, mate, shear, and wean according to his exacting standards.
Today, Don Julio’s health can be, on occasion, delicate and his eye sight after several cataract operations is failing. His daughter Elena is always at his side. But the passion for alpacas in Don Julio’s heart animates his days. He recently told me that he wants to sell fewer alpaca for export this year and build up the numbers in his herd—an amazing act of optimism for a man rapidly approaching the beginning of his 9th decade.
Julio Barreda was 40 years old as he sat reading an article in Argonoticias Magazine about a Peruvian priest, Father Cabrera. He loved the story of the priest who spent the middle of the eighteenth century creating a large herd of paco-vicuña (half alpaca/half vicuña) in Macusani. Cabrera’s goal was to mingle the fine fleece of the vicuña with the tamer alpaca. As a boy, in the 1930’s, Barreda remembered visiting what was left of the paco-vicuña herd, at the Hacienda Cconchatanca, just three kilometers down the valley from Macusani. Most of the alpacas left from Father Cabrera's herd weren’t the coppery gold of the native vicuña, but were dark brown or coffee-colored—the exact shade that fell out of favor when white became the color of choice. Barreda knew the hacienda's criadores, or handlers, who lassoed the pacos and they complained vociferously when the paco-vicuña crosses lie down, spit, and had to be dragged to their corral. The veterinarian at the hacienda confided to young Barreda that these animals would slowly disappear.
"Why?" Barreda asked, a feeling sadness coming over him.
"They are not as productive as sheep and they are very difficult to move, always returning to their personal territory," said the vet.
"Why should we spend money on animals that only shear a few pounds every two years?”
“Besides," he continued, "they produce little meat, maybe eighty pounds if you are lucky."
Barreda remembers with native pride that Father Cabrera created these animals 20 years before Gregor Mendel crossbred his peas. For this groundbreaking work, the government of Peruvian President, Ramon Castilla (1845) decreed that Cabrera's picture be placed in the Peruvian national museum. Don Julio told me, “all that is left of Cabrera's work is the foundation of a stone fence at the edge of Macusani, called the ‘vicuña cancha’ [vicuña corral].” Today an occasional alpaca/vicuña hybrid can be seen quenching its thirst in the low lying bofidales on wet areas not far from this old stone wall. The Hacienda Cconchatanca is known by most alpaca breeders as Rural Allianza, Macusani.
ACCOYO AND CCONCHATANCA
Julio Barreda stood, hat in hand, in a dingy courtroom in Puno, Peru to learn the fate of his beloved Accoyo and the sister ranch he had acquired near Santa Rosa. The Valesco government’s land reforms threatened to swallow his estancias and all of their alpacas. “You may continue to own Accoyo”, said Judge Ssuana and Barreda’s heart leapt, "You will deliver 200 huacaya hembras, 50 huacaya machos, and an additional 100 suri hembras to Rural Allianza Macusani." Barreda's initial excitement subsided as the judge went on. "You will contribute 200 hectares from Accoyo's common boundary with Rural Allianza, to Allianza. Estancia Rosario will be transferred to the government in Lima. For all of this you will be paid 592,000 soles in the form of government bonds." Barreda stood very still, all alone in the courtroom, holding his hat tightly. Without saying anything more, Judge Ssuana rose and left the room. The nightmare was over. Barreda never received a single payment on the government’s useless pieces of paper, but he still owned Accoyo—no matter how diminished.
RURAL ALLIANZA MACUSANI
Today Rural Allianza is home to 40,000 alpacas, Peru’s largest surviving alpaca co-op; it is recognized as the volume producer of the highest quality commercial fiber available. The machos and hembras of Allianza’s Royal Family repeatedly win prizes at alpaca shows throughout Peru.
It was at Rural Allianza Macusani, in the pastures once populated by Father Cabrera’s paco-vicuña, that Hemingway was discovered by importer Clyde Haldane of Purumbete Alpaca Stud, Australia. Hemingway arrived at Jim Vickers’ Maplewood Farm in August of 1993, part of the first ever Peruvian import into the United States. Clyde, and his brother, Roger, together with Phil Mizrahie of the Pet Center, were there to select two males “off the top of the import.” They made Hemingway one of their choices.
I have a confession to make. I didn’t like Hemingway—he would squeal and cush when touched, and although he would eventually grow out of his quarantine induced fear, I tried to talk Clyde and Roger out of choosing him. The Haldane’s choices were headed for Northwest Alpacas to stand at stud before being exported to Australia. Roger was non-plussed with my negative remarks and not about to alter his choice when he said, “At the end of the day, these animals are meant to produce fleece and this one is plenty fine. He’ll serve us well.” In retrospect my naiveté knew no bounds.
Hemingway traveled to Northwest Alpacas and I eventually purchased him from the Haldanes. His progeny are now located around the world. Hemingway’s offspring have all been of sound health, fine fleece, and outstanding phenotype. His sons command extraordinary prices and are the lead males in many a breeding program. Today, Hemingway is owned by a partnership of breeders made up of Northwest Alpacas, Pacific Crest Alpacas, Morning Sun Alpacas, and Timberland Alpacas.
Hemingway made his mark early on; he was the first place adult male at the 1995 Alpaca Fest in Hillsboro, Oregon, which was, at the time, the largest alpaca show in the United States. In the white juvenile male halter class, the first four ribbon winners from a class of ten were Hemingway’s progeny. At the 1996 show in Estes Park, Colorado and the AOBA National in Denver, Colorado, Hemingway’s offspring won first place in the white weanling classes, both male and female, each competing against 25 entries in their respective classes. These awards were made before the rule that split classes at 15 and before championships were awarded. His colored cria won multiple blue ribbons at both shows.
Hemingway’s early histograms are exceptional in every respect. His numbers are matched by few studs, if any, currently working in the world, and his fleece at five years of age was, on average, 17.8 microns, 3.7 standard deviation, 20% coefficient of variation, and 1% of microns over 30. In 1995, Cameron Holt of Melbourne Institute of Textiles said, “Hemingway is an exceptional animal. He tests better than any male I’ve seen , his fleece is soft and I would breed him to every female I could.” Time has proved Cameron’s words. Hemingway currently has 387 registered offspring. Today at 16 years of age his crimpy fleece measures 23.7 microns. But even more than his remarkable histograms it is Hemingway’s ability to influence the fleece of his progeny that marks him as a great herd sire. The following index is a representation of Hemingway’s ability to pass on his fineness to his progeny:
At the second annual All American Futurity all of the following Hemingway offspring who were entered won ribbons in the hyper-competitive white classes:
The 1994 import from Peru provided the first Accoyo alpacas to the United States. Julio Barreda personally selected the males that were included. This particular shipment was of extraordinary quality. Two Accoyo males stood out; Caligula and Pluro. Tom Hunt knew that Barreda favored Caligula, and when he won the coin toss to select first, he made Caligula his choice off the top of the import. Years later I asked Barreda why he had sent some of his best Plantel males in that first import. “They were my business card,” he said. “I didn’t want anyone to forget Accoyo.”
Greg Mecklem of Pacific Crest Alpacas could not get the huge male out of his mind. Soon after the import sale, one of Greg’s females, who had been bred to Caligula, had a cria. Greg remembers it as the best cria he had ever seen. He decided to call Tom Hunt, talk about the weather, an alpaca or two, and then casually ask if Tom had ever considered selling Caligula. “I just did,” said Tom, “to two school teachers in Iowa.”
Greg sprang into action calling Irene Wherritt, who was one of the teachers, and talking her into selling him a ¼ share. Greg rang me to ask if I had a joint ownership agreement for a herd sire male. “Yes,” I said, “and be sure to insist on the first right of refusal clause in case they decide to sell their share to someone else.” Greg did as I suggested, and not long after, he had the opportunity to buy 100% of Caligula. Next Greg sold 50% of Caligula to Mary Goodman, and she won the Small Breeder of the Year award at the All American Futurity for several years running; mostly on the strength of Caligula’s progeny winnings.
Caligula died in 2003 with 203 registered offspring. His progeny won 12 get of sire competitions, two of those at AOBA National shows. Once he was 2nd in the get class at the Nationals, losing to his son Accoyo’s El Nino’s first place get. His sons and daughters have won 17 championships at the largest shows in the U.S., not counting the breeder’s best awards. Today Caligula’s offspring are working in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and England.
The following results from the 2001 Futurity demonstrate the results for both Caligula and Hemingway’s progeny in the brutally competitive white classes:
Tim Vincent of Celebrity Sales and the All American Futurity has seen many of Hemingway and Caligula’s progeny over the years. Here is what he had to say about two of the world’s premier herd sires. “Hemingway grabbed our attention at the very first Futurity Sale and Show in 1998 where his offspring swept the Yearling Huacaya Breed Championship and one of his daughters was the high selling auction female, bringing $48,000. At that same event were a few of the first offspring of another male named Caligula, who within the next two years would produce enough progeny to make him the 2001 Futurity Herd Sire of the Year. Since the inception of the futurity, these two males and their offspring have combined to win over 100 ribbons, and more than $50,000 in prize money.” And the All American Futurity is but one show held once a year. Barreda’s business card served him well and Father Cabrera’s vicuña cancha is still productive 160 years later.